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Defences on top as trust is put in backline going forward

By Declan Bogue

The system is dead, long live the system. Or is that the case? When two teams meet that have the most refined gameplans in the sport, and mirror each other, the contest does not become about which team can do the most damage to each other, but who can limit their mistakes.

So when Paul Durcan looked to hit a short kickout in the second half, with Kerry turning the screw, he opened up the kind of footballing nightmare than stays with a player forever.

Two men were either side of him, he hit neither. Instead, he found the gangling figure of Kieran Donaghy – remember him? – and he drilled his fourth goal in an All-Ireland final.

It was enough. Just enough.

Let's talk aesthetics. The scientists of Gaelic football will drill down on the stats and the turnovers and whatever else, but this was a game devoid of expression. It was death by defence. We all entered into it like a secret pact but halfway through we felt the whole thing wasn't worth it.

Croke Park looked beautiful, by the way. Can hardly have looked more golden and green with the opposing sides in the same colour scheme. Music plinked and plonked along the Clonliffe Road out of ramshackle keyboards as the standards of each county were rattled out.

It was a day of days, but the romance never made it across the white lines. In there, it was strictly business and a brutal one at that.

So, Kerry again. The lesser of two evils? Probably. There was something entirely unsatisfactory about the whole thing though.

Where to now for Donegal? Consider what they did this year. They had a week away in the Algarve prior to Championship. Five nights were spent in Johnstown House preparing to beat Dublin. Another quintet of sleeps were performed in the Lough Erne Golf Resort.

Then of course there is the weekend in Mullingar, and the reported training camps in Inisowen, along with whatever else they had and their overnight hotel stays before each game.

It appeared that no team had ever entered an All-Ireland final quite so prepared. Just how Jim McGuinness had, as he put it, got his teeth into Dublin in the semi-final to pull off a remarkable victory, we could only guess at. It was entirely plausible that they would do the same here.

Is this the level it takes to get to an All-Ireland? McGuinness has to be admired for the lengths he went to in order to finance this dream, but when it ends in defeat, it might be a measure harder to convince the same backers to dip into the pocket again next year.

In the northern pre-match predictions, Donegal got the nod. In the south, it was different. In the Irish Independent on Saturday, six out of their seven pundits plumped for The Kingdom, including recently-departed Mayo manager James Horan.

While the rest of us got caught up in a world of mathematics and systems, Kerry fell back on and old formula. Let her in long.

It brought back an old tale of when Sir Robert McAlpine was lying on his deathbed with requests to impart some of his hard-won business knowledge from a lifetime building the highways of England.

He replied, "Keep Paddy at the mixer."

There is a place for everyone, that logic says, and the edge of the square it should always be big man territory. Kieran Donaghy and Paul Geaney caused blind panic and sank Donegal.

The blanket defence was good while it lasted. An interesting departure in football, but its' time is sent for now. This is not the dawn of a new era of football, either. Retaining Sam has become too difficult for that.

Dublin are still about. With a more disciplined defence that keep the odd body back, they will return a meaner, sleeker model of themselves in 2015.

Kerry will show up for that fight. Will Donegal?

Belfast Telegraph


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